Ten years after it’s theatrical release in 2003, a directorial debut from one of the youngest filmmakers to have a feature film accepted to the Sundance Film Festival retains its buzz as a classic among online and niche markets, gathering a following through social media & television almost as if the film itself was a brand new release. A common question that typically follows is:
How come I never saw this movie before?
It’s a good question. When “The Beat” featured in Park City, Utah in 2003, the year after many prospects at the previous Sundance Festival flopped, distributors were understandably hesitant to invest in new films, especially from unestablished filmmakers. So when Symbolic Entertainment was offered a deal with Ardustry in 2005 for the video and television release of “The Beat” it was a welcome negotiation considering that nearly everyone involved in the film– from the producers, the writer/director, and even the star– were first-time filmmakers (many of them still undergraduates at the USC School of Cinema-Television at the time).
The accomplishment of getting an independent film picked up for television was a major achievement, so much that several of the collaborators went onto pursue successful careers in Hollywood, such as Scott Speer, assistant director on “The Beat” who directed last year’s blockbuster, “Step Up Revolution“, and writer/director Brandon Sonnier who currently writes for the NBC drama “Blacklist”.
Any professional in Hollywood can tell you that “making it” in this industry is no guarantee, let alone a walk-in-the-park. Success has less to do with your academic degree and more to do with your networking and savvy negotiation… or simply being at the right place and the right time, such as the case with the film’s lead, Rahman Jamaal, a colleague of Sonnier’s that earned respect for his ability to rhyme and was eventually asked to contribute to the vision of the film during their freshman year of college.
The result of this collaboration added 6 original songs to help carry the underlying theme throughout the film. The rap lyrics provide social commentary acknowledging the difficulties and pitfalls independent artists face when attempting to succeed in the music industry:
”…when the only opportunity for you to speak
Is through a beat commodity starts with the high marketing
All cuz we like pocketing profit that’s sky-rocketing
When artistry starts to be properly signed property…”
One particular piece entitled “This Isn’t Art” defends rap music as a legitimate art form by merging conscious poetry to a classical piano piece called “Prelude In G Minor” by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. The lyrics assert that the cultural form of social expression known as “Hip Hop” deserves to be recognized and given the same respect as all musical genres in high regard:
While some assert that Hip Hop is dead, “The Beat” is a modern-day artifact showing us the opposite by encouraging artists to follow their dreams. This is certainly easier to pursue today when you consider that more independent artists are able to find popularity through online media. The real question is whether “bucking the industry” with an uncompromising message of social awareness poses a risk for major corporations who usually draw the line somewhere in the artist’s lyrics to maximize profits in a capitalist economy.
Today, “The Beat” persists as the story of underground success in a mainstream society that could easily boost its conscious sentiment to the spotlight if enough people watched it. The fact that a movie over 10 years old is still a breath of fresh air to the fans who have grown weary of the same old rap clichés saturating the market is a testament to how “The Beat” was ahead of its time. This may explain why it can steadily & consistently build an international buzz and still manage to remain relatively underground to this day.
The power of Hip Hop has always evolved the social landscape from within, and this movie has only become more relevant with time. It deals with controversial issues of race, class & justice in America that have continued to come into the public light as we’ve witnessed drastic social changes over the last ten years (Occupy Wall Street, Arabic Spring, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, etc.). ”The Beat” is a fictional story of a young black man following his dream despite the odds of his environment, an American myth so common to the consuming public and younger generation that it speaks to the human ability to make sense on a world struggling with notions of authority and justice.
Something has been brewing in the fabric of society that a group of young filmmakers touched upon early on in their careers. Time will tell if this artistic vision finds its place in a larger mainstream reality of rapidly changing norms & innovative technology, as the message of the film quite literally represents “the dream” of succeeding without needing to compromise for popular appeal.
One anecdote used by the main character Flip in “The Beat” is the slang phrase “word” to identify a statement of truth. Throughout the film, Flip holds fast to the idea that he is going to “bring it back” as if “the word” has been lost to the ages. Whether or not you agree, something keeps bringing “The Beat” back. Perhaps it is the word. As the industry chooses to invest in the marketing appeal of young artists, the street keeps supporting the message in “The Beat”, and that may be all that is needed for an artist to “Flip” the script, so to speak…
“The Beat” will air next Wednesday, 9/25 at 12:25pm on STARZ In Black.
written by Rahmaan Jamal